Social media is the pinnacle of human connectedness and communication. However, I’ve been off social media for over five months now. I’m no longer updated with news about wedding schedules, break-ups, and other life updates that connected me with my closest friends. Oftentimes, my coworkers would tease me about being the “old man in the department” because I was the last person to know about juicy rumors. It’s like a big chunk of the world was lost when I quit–I felt physically and metaphorically disconnected from Earth. And the teasing continued even after I deleted my Instagram account and other profiles.
And yet, I don’t miss it. Not one bit. In fact, I found myself freer than ever, especially after using social media for more than 10 years. I reflected that my disconnection is a connection in itself; it’s a newfound connection to people after giving them actual compliments in the park, versus the digital comments I gave praising celebrities. It’s a connection to conversations that last for hours, over ones that end in emojis. In my daily commute, I’ve found myself more interested in the sights, the sounds, and people I meet.
This blog might sound like one of those “zen” articles that brag about how being on the other side of fads is better. Maybe it is a bit, but it’s more of an explanation, too; an explanation on how checking out of social media affects us. After all, social media is an invention, not a necessity. And by the end of this article, you may even want to delete your Instagram account.
Why delete your Instagram account (and other social media profiles)?
There are three categorical effects the literature shares about how social media affects us humans: you have the Physical (your body’s reaction to it), Psychological (social media is basically a drug at this point), and Psychosocial (how it affects the social aspect of humanity).
Physical Effects of Social Media
Generation Z kids are the most likely victims of physical effects because these guys essentially grew up with technology at their heel. Them scrolling endlessly in Instagram is kinda like us changing channels on cable TV. These physical effects are pervasive, and is probably the easiest to check. Let’s highlight how we look like when using social media.
Exhibit A: Homo Socialus Medius. When you browse your social media online, are you aware of just how much time you spend idly scrolling through your feed? Do you ever wonder how much you could accomplish if you were doing something else, instead?
Don’t scoff at the image. If we were to hazard a guess, we’re guessing that’s how you look like when using social media. Ever found yourself slumping more when standing up? This is called the “Text Neck” syndrome, and orthopedic doctors are alarmed at the future repercussions of this to posture and body forms. With at least two hours of smartphone use a day, the daily weight we place on our spine has most likely already dealt permanent damage to our back. The average 45 degree tilt basically gives around 22 kilos of weight to your spine, curvature, and other muscles–over five times the regular load.
Not only that; it causes a slew of secondhand effects like weaker muscles, loss of lung capacity, and general weakening of muscles. One of the secondhand effects is more life-threatening: there was a study in the United States of America that found that there was a 50% increase in phone-related motor vehicle accidents since 2010. The numbers get higher every year. If a herniated disk and permanent nerve damage won’t kill you, your daily commute will.
But what about desktop Instagram?
You might be thinking: “Ha! I only use Instagram via a desktop! How’s that, you fearmonger?” That’s cool and all, assuming you don’t use your eyes when scrolling mindlessly on Instagram or Facebook. Blue light from the devices you use wrecks your circadian rhythm. If you use your phone to scroll yourself to sleep, you’re in for bad time; blue light gives signals suggesting that it’s day time to your brain, and keeps you up for longer. Even if you do sleep early, your quality of sleep is still affected. According to research, Americans generally get an as little as an average of 6.8 hours of sleep daily and adults should be getting 7-9 hours.
We know that the harms are prevalent because over 2.4 billion people around the world use social media via phones. It’s not the phone’s fault per se. The problem, though, is how different applications push you to use your phones at a prolonged period of time. You see, when you check your phone, you are overwhelmed by a lot of notifications. Check your phone right now; is there a new message? Perhaps someone liked your photo?
On Instagram, even if you don’t use or post much, it still draws you in through push notifications of your connections’ actions. If someone hasn’t posted a story for a while, your app lets you know and keeps you curious. It even incentivizes people to keep posting. For example, users that film live videos set off a push notification invite to watch now.
This sets off a conscious effect of excitement to your brain. The (1) notification icons in phones keep you checking in anticipation. Once you check the content, your brain gets a fix of dopamine and endorphins. “Aww, what a cute cat!” you say, after checking Reddit. Then, your brain relaxes. Your phone vibrates 10 minutes later. It displays an abruptly cut notification: “Ronnie commented on your post: This is cute, but…” So then you check out the comment hurriedly using the app. The cycle continues ad infinitum.
All of a sudden, it seems to make sense to delete your Instagram account, doesn’t it?
Everything that creates an emotional response in our brain triggers us to do something about it, and developers know where to hit us best.
According to research, a single, weekly push notification increases user retention to that app doubles it in iOS, and sextuples that in Android. Yikes. How many apps do you have again?
How to stop push notifications in Instagram:
Luckily, stopping push notifications is easy and only takes three steps via mobile:
- Go to your profile and tap the
- Tap the settings icon.
- Tap Notification settings and set your preferred notification set-up. You can even choose to filter which notifications you want to be alerted to to at least lessen the sheer amount of notifications you get.
Psychological Effects of Social Media:
Since we opened earlier the effects of prolonged social media use to the brain, let’s check out how it affects our minds. Particularly, let’s discuss mental health. Your mental health is a precious capital so you can function effectively and be in your best shape daily. These elements are at risk when you heavily use social media:
Lower self-esteem: Your self-esteem is your own confidence in your current state. The higher it goes, the better and more confident you are in making decisions and being “in control” of your life. Studies have shown that the “sharing” component of social media isn’t as positive as it sounds. Ever felt the sense that your life is boring whenever you scroll down your social media pages? That’s called “Facebook Envy”, but the formula applies to almost every social media platform .
According to the University of Copenhagen, people that were asked to abstain or downright stop using Facebook for a week reported much higher life satisfaction scores than those who used it normally. People who see others having the time of their lives while they themselves experience problems tend to compare themselves negatively. However, most of these posts are just highlights of their lives because honestly, who would regularly post private problems publicly?
Increased risk of depression: Social media use can also increase depressive risks and episodes. Social comparison is the main driver of this. One of the explanations from a study by the University of Pennsylvania found is simple; the more people used social media less, the more likely they are to pursue the things that made them happy. The addictiveness of social media makes you crave for more updates. More updates means more screen time. More screen time, more social comparisons and more frustrating thoughts. Again, the cycle continues ad Infinitum.
Higher chances for social media addiction: When your brain gets hard-wired to actively receive dopamine and endorphin shots every 10-15 minutes, it affects actions and has real-life repercussions. Furthermore, this exhibits a spiral of helplessness, similar to actual drug addictions. According to Assistant Professor Christian Maier from the University of Bamberg:
“…When users are stressed from SNS use, they are using the same platforms to cope with that stress, diverting themselves through other activities on the SNS, and ultimately building compulsive and excessive behaviour. As a result, they embed themselves in the social network environment rather than getting away from it, and an addiction is formed.”
A social media addict’s brain increases chances of distraction, school and work performance, and even relationships as discussed in the next.
Psychosocial Effects of Social Media
The way we interact with people has definitely shifted. Looking at a more traditional example, if you wanted to romance a friend, you establish yourself, connect with the family, and put your best foot forward when you meet the person. Now, it’s just a matter of how well you “slide into her DM” in social media. Even making friends is now at the convenience of a search bar and a few clicks.
Studies have shown that couples who are active in social media increase feelings of jealousy and evolve to more actual fights. Sharing too many selfies with your partner has also shown a correlation with the decrease of the intimacy they experienced in relationships.
Gaps in social media activity has also highlighted various insecurities. Social media, after all, is a public portal. For example, if one partner is more active in sharing their activities together and the other one is more passive, it could cause strain in the relationship. Founder of women empowerment group Sis Stay Ready Nicole Howard put it best: “If he didn’t share anything [about me], did I exist in his world?” Luckily, she grew out of this mindset because her boyfriend gave her all the love she needed offline. Different strokes for different folks.
What can I do? This seriously sounds like an epidemic.
The thing about epidemics is that they can be managed with careful planning and quick action. One thing experts agree on: lessening time on the platforms are the first steps. Here are some suggestions on how to manage your social media use:
- Download social wellbeing apps – Ironic as it may sound, Apple and Google have tools that allow users to manage time online, find out which ones they use the most, and limit application use. For Android users, simply update your devices to Android 8.0 (Oreo). For iOS users, update your firmware to iOS 12. The Digital Wellbeing set-up can be found under your settings. If you have older devices, there are some third-party alternatives in your respective application stores. Do it one day at a time.
- Delete Instagram account – A simple deactivation will suffice for some, but for those who want to quit cold turkey, this is a valid step. I recommend starting one app at a time, and you can start with Instagram as it’s one of the top five most-used social media apps in the world. Here’s how to do it:
The permanent “delete Instagram account” procedure
- Go to the “Delete Your Account” page here in this link.
- Log-in and choose the reason why you’re deleting your account.
- Tap “Permanently delete my account”.
Note: Once you do this, all pictures, comments, likes, and followers, will also be permanently removed–the price we pay for freedom.
- Check in with yourself: Go back to your life before social media. Repurpose old passions and physically catch up with the friends you miss the most.
Now that you’re more aware of the risks and the steps to have a healthier mind and body, I hope you’ll consider disconnecting (or even delete your Instagram account) to reconnect with your life. Be in control, and keep your health in check. Good luck!